“The Tillman Story” is the third feature film for director Amir Bar-Lev.
Tribune: Why did this movie need to be made?
Bar-Lev: I guess (the reason) was two-fold. Part of it was we were pretty shocked to see how off-the-mark the public perception was, not only about how Pat died, but who he was when he was alive. Secondly, you couldn’t write a story like this. Any filmmaker would have jumped at the opportunity to make a film that has a conspiracy straight out of a thriller novel, with an amazing and inspiring family that takes on the most powerful institutions in the world. All of those components made it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Tribune: Was it difficult to talk the family into making this film?
Bar-Lev: In one respect, it was. After the (government investigation) concluded, (brother) Kevin decided that he wasn’t going to be a public figure again. He wanted to get justice for his brother, and that didn’t happen. It was hard to come on the heels of that disappointment. But this is a family that has a sense of integrity that is as strong as its sense of privacy. I think the way they lived up to the responsibility of telling their story affected me and everyone else who worked on the film.
Tribune: Is this the kind of film that writes itself?
Bar-Lev: You have to give a lot of credit to Mary Tillman. Her book, “Boots on the Ground by Dusk,” did a lot of the work for us. It became the script for the film, basically. It’s an incredibly voluminous amount of information, and we benefitted tremendously from the work she did.
Tribune: Obviously, you didn’t plan it this way, but do you think the fact that the film has come out around the time troops are leaving Iraq will help the film’s profile?
Bar-Lev: I hope that people don’t take it as a film about political issues or asking whether we should be in the wars we have been fighting. That’s not what we set out to do. We set out to make a story about an exemplary family’s journey, and we took wide berths around anything that would have labeled us partisan and agenda-driven. I think there’s a great film that can be made about all that other stuff, but it’s not our film.
Tribune: Was the ‘R’ rating a disappointment to you?
Bar-Lev: The Tillman family has colorful language, and it think that’s part of their appeal. We think that, 100 years from now, Pat Tillman is going to be taught in schools as an American hero, and the fact that this film cannot be shown in schools right now is disappointing and non-sensical.
Tribune: Does the cause end with this film? What other projects can be done to?
Bar-Lev: In the last month or so, as we have been rolling the film out, we have been contacted by mothers and families with similar stories. They have banded together with Pat’s mother to show that this is a systemic problem, not just in Pat’s case. Some people wonder what makes Pat Tillman more special than others who have died in war, and Pat’s family couldn’t agree more. They have been afforded attention, so they are trying to bring other families along with them.